As we entered, we saw a group of paramedics escorting an elderly Asian American woman through the store towards the entrance. At first, I thought nothing more than, “Oh, I hope she’s ok” and was going to go about my merry shopping way when I realized something was off about the situation. The little old lady kept waving her hands and shaking her head “no” to two of the paramedics, who had their hands on her but weren’t supporting her, as I had first assumed, but instead were forcefully moving her to the store exit against her will. The little elderly lady was digging her heels in, clearly upset, but also clearly unable to speak or understand English. I stopped and backtracked to where the group was, listening. The paramedics were telling the woman she “had to go to the hospital” and that she “had to” get into an ambulance outside. The woman was trying to free herself, with a look of panic. I saw my grandma in that lady and a hundred other grandmas who might not want traditional western care, who might not be able to afford ridiculously inflated emergency room bills, who feel bullied by a bunch of people in uniforms authoritatively telling them what they “have” to do.
I marched over and said loudly, “She has the right to reject medical care if she wants to. She’s an adult woman and appears competent and autonomous and able to walk fine by herself.” The two paramedics who were physically pulling the woman quickly jerked their hands off her and turned on me, telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about and to back away, and that the woman had fallen and should go to the hospital. I said, “I understand and I appreciate it if you want to make sure she’s ok physically, but she clearly doesn’t understand you and doesn’t want to go with you so you need to get a translator on the phone to explain the situation to her so she can make her own decision. It’s not your right to make the decision for her when she’s capable of making it herself.”
At that point, a police officer got right in my face and told me to leave immediately. I simply looked at him and said, “No, I have a right to be here and I am not doing anything wrong.” He turned his back on me to box me out and left his Taser completely open for me if I had wanted to grab it (which I didn’t). I was sorely tempted to comment on the ill-advised nature of his move but I bit my tongue. It broke my heart a little that this particular police officer (and others I have met in NYC have been great so I hope this officer was just an exception to the rule and not the norm) was normalizing the bullying instead of doing his job to ensure the elderly lady's rights were being respected.
A different paramedic – I’ll just call her the 3rd paramedic – told me they were just trying to get the woman help. I told the 3rd paramedic that I understood, but that the little old woman didn’t and that was what needed to be remedied. In the meantime, the first two paramedics kept yelling at the little old woman, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND? YOU NEED TO COME TO THE HOSPITAL!!” louder and louder and louder, as though by increasing their volume, they’d somehow create language comprehension in a non-English speaker. I spoke up again, saying, “She clearly doesn’t understand you and saying the same thing louder isn’t going to help. You need a translator.” The first two paramedics clearly wanted to kill me, but the 3rd one, who had been talking with me, agreed with me and they got a translator on the phone to talk to the woman.
I explained to the sympathetic 3rd paramedic that I didn’t want to cause a problem for them and I understood they were doing an important job, but I also wanted them to be cognizant of the fact this is a scared, little old lady who doesn’t speak English. “Look, “ I pointed out. “She’s shaking with fear and there are FIVE uniformed people crowding all around her and shouting at her in a language she doesn’t know.” The 3rd paramedic looked and acknowledged that the situation could be improved. She pulled the others off and said, “Give her some breathing room.” After a call with the translator, it was made clear the lady was declining further medical assistance so the first two paramedics finally backed off and everyone went on their way.
I got back to my grocery shopping and the store security manager came up to me and thanked me for helping the lady. I was like, “Yeah, I just thought she was kind of being bullied and I get that everyone probably wanted to help and do the right thing, but they needed to do it in the right way – where the lady was informed and able to properly consent or not, as she chose. I’m not a doctor or a paramedic – I don’t know, medically, what’s best for anyone. All I know is that, in the same situation, I would want to be treated with respect and I would want the situation explained to me in a way I understood and then I would want to be allowed to make my own decision about my own care, so that’s what I tried to ensure for the little old lady.”
Afterwards, my significant other was like, “I guess the universe decided you just had to go off defending old ladies in grocery stores instead of enjoying a new restaurant or seeing Deadpool. Can we at least try to get through the grocery shopping without any more adventures?” Hey, Honey, at least it’s never boring, right?!